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The Pacers offense and old school thinking vs new school

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The Indiana Pacers season is seen with a pessimistic viewpoint due to the loss of Paul George and Lance Stephenson to injury and free agency. Those wings have been effectively replaced by new additions Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles, along with expected increase in minutes for Chris Copeland. Many predictions for the Pacers now have them falling into the 30s in wins, a steep fall from last season’s 56-26.

When it comes to their results as a whole, I’m not sure how well their defense will hold up without Paul George. It’s not just that George is one of the best defensive perimeter players in the league, but making up for losing him may cause Frank Vogel to integrate a more offensive style of play, or the Pacers to expend more energy on offense. This could hurt their defensive results. Although the Pacers still have an elite defensive front court with Roy Hibbert and David West backed up by options like Ian Mahimni and Lavoy Allen.

However offensively, I believe the Pacers drop-off is not as severe as some believe.

Old school thinking

10 or 15 years ago when fans and the league were more obsessed with points per game and “creating their own shot”, the Pacers losing their two leading scorers in George (21.7ppg) and Stephenson (13.8ppg) would be seen as a disaster in the making. The Pacers are surely a disaster without any perimeter players who can create their own shot, right?

Yet how offense is played and viewed is clearly different in 2014. Like RBIs in baseball, it’s not about how many points per game you get, but how it occurs in relation to the team. A player who scores points per game but does so inefficiently and who stops the ball from moving to other more efficient shots, may not be valuable. In addition, floor spacing is now one of the best places to start when evaluating how successful an offense will work as a unit. That doesn’t invalidate the concerns about losing George and Stephenson as both were above average in league efficiency and losing them may cause defenses to key on other players, but it suggests at least looking closer before writing the new Pacers offense off as automatically worse than last year’s sub-average one, finishing 23rd in ORTG and plummeting to league worst levels after the all-star break.

How the Pacers would succeed offensively

The key to the Pacers surviving at SG and SF without Stephenson and George is in spacing and ball movement, both more paramount to offensive success than “creating your own shot”.

The last 2 years C.J. Miles in Cleveland hit 39.3% and 38.4% from 3 on 4.1 and 5.0 3pt attempts a game, in only 19.3 and 21.0 minutes per game. This equates to a sky high 7.7 and 8.7 3pt attempts per 36 minutes. Between his % and volume, it seems fair to suggest Miles could produce a strong 3pt shooting season for the Pacers. Chris Copeland shot 41.8% from 3 for the Pacers last year on 1.9 attempts a game, however by playing 6.5 minutes per game in 41 games, this was on a low volume. However for the Knicks his rookie year he shot 42.1% from 3 on 2.5 attempts a game in 15.4 minutes per game. Overall, it would also seem Copeland is a reliable 3pt shooting option. The Pacers also have a Croatian rookie wing Damjan Rudez who shot 44.1% from 3 on 4.5 attempts a game from 3 last year in the ACB. The wing who is a problem as as shooter is Rodney Stuckey, who has a career 3p% of .286 and shot 27.3% from 3 last year in Detroit. However Stuckey provides a different important skill set to the Pacers, which isg eating to the FT line. Stuckey has averaged 4.3 FTA per game for his career, or a per 36 rate of 5.3 a game. Last year George averaged 5.8 free throw attempts a game on a high volume of shots, while Stephenson only averaged 2.5 a game. Stuckey isn’t the type of offensive player I favor, but he does provide an element of driving to the basket and free throw line hat may be lacking in players like Miles, Copeland, Rudez or Pacers veterans like George Hill.

The Pacers are PG, PF and C are similar offensively to last year. George Hill is not a spectacular PG but he’s a reliable 3 point shooter and passing “game manager”, hitting 36.5% from 3 on 3.4 attempts last year and averaging 3.5 assists to 1.2 turnovers. C.J. Watson is an average but respectable backup point offensively. David West remains a solid option in the post and pick and pop. While for his dreadful offensive numbers at times, I still feel like Roy Hibbert has offensive skill on the block that if used more heavily, could draw defensive attention. Luis Scola had a poor season last year but could refind his skill game this year.

Ideally the Pacers would find themselves with floor spacing provided by players like Miles, Copeland and Rudez and having SGs and SFs who play off the ball, would help the team have ball movement. With players like Hill, West and Hibbert, the roster is still very high IQ, which could help them pass the ball to post players and then if doubles are drawn, out to open shooters. For all of Paul George and Lance Stephenson’s talent, they also dominated the ball and contributed the Pacers finding themselves stagnant enough to settle for midrange jumpshots. The new Pacers may not be able to “create their own shot” like George and Hill, but if there’s more ball movement and spacing, this could in its own way create more open shots from 3 or at the rim than they struggled to get last year.

Barring a defensive collapse I see a lot of reasons why the Pacers would outdo expectations this year. They are a team full of veteran professionals who tend to win compared to younger, mistake-making teams and who has been well coached defensively by Frank Vogel. They won’t wow anyone with talent, but the key is intelligence and effort level. This would play out not only with continued defensive success, but finding open shooters with precision on the offensive end. A season around 44 or 45 wins and being the same type of success story the Bulls have been the last 2 seasons without Derrick Rose, would not surprise me.

Written by jr.

October 26, 2014 at 2:19 pm

2013 NBA Draft Big Board update – February 2013

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My prospect talent rankings midway through the college season. My talent grading system is based on 1/3 how much a player physically impacts the game, 1/3 his skill impacts the game and 1/3 his feel for the game, with each category being scored out of 11 and a maximum total of 33. I have slightly changed my grading method to where I only give grades of 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 in each category, more specific grades than that are unnecessary and hard to grade with the uncertainty of college prospects. A more detailed (though slightly dated) description of my talent evaluation can be found here.

1. C Alex Len – 23 (Borderline perennial all-star talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 7, Skill impact talent grade: 9, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7)

A great bet on the offensive end due to his inside-outside skill and smooth feel. Has the length and athleticism to anchor a defense one day. Not a transcendent prospect, but a complete package at C.

2. PF Anthony Bennett – 23 (Borderline perennial all-star talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 7, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 9)

Very impressive pound for pound talent for a PF. Explosiveness and strong enough to attack the basket, with the ability to step back and hit the perimeter shot to open his game. Great feel for the game, showing the craftiness and smoothness to adjust on the dribble. Has high potential in the post. Might be a 20/10 big man in the making.

3. PF Isaiah Austin – 23 (Borderline perennial all-star talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 9, Feel for the Game talent grade: 9)

Elite combination of inside-outside perimeter skill and feel for a power forward prospect give him immense offensive talent. Doesn’t have the size or explosiveness to impact the game physically at an elite level, but has decent length. Can be one of the best offensive bigs in the league and is somewhat of a poor man’s Dirk.

4. SF Le’Bryan Nash – 23 (Borderline perennial all-star talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 9, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7)

A player who’s production in college makes it understandably uncertain whether he’ll reach his talent level and upside, but I believe that talent is enormous. Combination of elite speed/size for a SF, a high upside in skill level (as shown by his impressive post game and midrange shot for a 3) and an excellent, smooth feel for the game. At times looks like a lesser Carmelo Anthony. Trick with Nash is determining whether his lack of college production comes from him being enigmatic, or simply his game not fitting college.

5. C Rudy Gobert – 21 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 9, Skill impact talent grade: 5, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7)

Very high shotblocking upside due to his all-time great 7’9 wingspan and is an excellent athlete for a C. Great hands leading to a supernaturally high FG% on his French team. Appears to be a high IQ, aware player. If he reaches his upside, could be Tyson Chandler-like on the offensive end while leading the league in blocks, which would make him a monster.

6. SG Ben McLemore – 21 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 9, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7)

An incredible shooting talent, putting up elite numbers both from 3pt and FT% in college. Great athleticism, but lack of great ball-handling could prevent him from top notch slashing and physically impacting the game. Nice IQ, particularly moving off the ball. Needs to attack the basket to be an elite SG, but has a chance to be a true blue chip SG who fits in any lineup.

7. PG Marcus Smart – 21 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 7, Skill impact talent grade: 5, Feel for the Game talent grade: 9)

Impressive mix of size and athleticism should help him penetrate and create plays in the NBA. Great vision and feel for the game for a PG. His upside depends on his shooting game. If he can hit the 3 consistently he’ll be the full package for a PG.

8. PF/C Cody Zeller – 21 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 9)

High skill and feel should make him a go-to player offensively. Lack of strength and length is a problem on the defensive end, though Cody does have explosiveness. Most likely situation to me is that he ends up a team’s version of Greg Monroe, not a franchise player, but a rock solid offensive building block.

9. PF C.J. Leslie – 21 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 7, Skill impact talent grade: 5, Feel for the Game talent grade: 9)

One of the best athletes in the draft, simply beautiful explosiveness for a 6’8+ power forward. Elite feel for the game, looks smooth and able to pick apart the space defenses give him offensively. Needs to improve his perimeter range and touch and will need to commit to playing PF inside SF, but has massive upside if it all comes together.

10.  PF Nerlens Noel – 19 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 11, Skill impact talent grade: 3, Feel for the Game talent grade: 5)

An amazing athlete, with his explosiveness and length helping him put up freakish shotblocking numbers. Due to rarity of shotblocking at PF, could have historic physical impact on the game at the PF position. Lacks high end skill or feel. Raw outside of finishing shots around the basket in skill and while having decent defensive awareness, does not look smooth or natural offensively. Should have an impact career but don’t love him as a future star.

11.  C Jeff Withey – 19 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 5, Feel for the Game talent grade: 9)

Underrated athleticism, can be legitimately explosive at times. I don’t expect his shotblocking to translate to the NBA without elite length. Has a growing offensive game including a midrange jump shot. His strength however is his tremendous IQ and awareness on the defensive end. While it’s high praise, his situation looks like a version of Joakim Noah coming out of Florida to me.

12.  SF Sergey Karasev – 19 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 3, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 9)

Not an elite athlete, but can occasionally get to the rim due to his excellent ballhandling. Having a great 3pt shooting season and is a perimeter shot creator. Very impressive IQ and feel for the game, has a great recognition of his teammates. Due to relative rarity of 3pt shooting SFs in a league increasingly embracing spacing from the position, I see Karasev being a long term starter and blue chip player at the position.

13.  SG/SF Jamaal Franklin – 19 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 7, Skill impact talent grade: 5, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7)

Excellent physical talent for a SG, with great size and explosiveness and the ballhandling to get to the basket. Inconsistent shooting, but has shown NCAA 3pt range and can get hot from outside. Good IQ and feel for the game, looking comfortable and smooth on both ends much of the time. If he can shoot well enough, good chance of starting in the NBA for a while.

14.  PG Trey Burke – 19 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 3, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 9)

Undersized and lacks explosiveness, but great ballhandling helps him get to the basket respectably, avoiding a rock bottom 1 in physical impact talent. Good outside shooter with the potential to be great, plus an excellent passer. His strength is his elite feel for the game and awareness, looking comfortable running an offense and keeping the pulse of his teammates. Depending on his shooting, has a nice shot at being a starting PG long term.

15.  SG Nick Johnson – 19 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7)

An undersized SG, but one who makes up for it by playing way above the rim with his explosiveness and his tenacity. Improving outside shooter and shot creator. Nice feel for the game and craftiness off the dribble. In my opinion, has the talent to be a standout shooter/scorer in the NBA.

16.  SG C.J. McCollum – 19 (Blue Chip starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 3, Skill impact talent grade: 9, Feel for the Game talent: 7)

McCollum is an undersized SG, but is one of the best shooters in the draft and has a chance to be one of the best shooters in the NBA. Excellent shot creator for a guard. Because of a lack of size and elite athleticism will likely stick to the perimeter, unable to make an elite physical impact on the game by slashing to the basket. Feel for the Game appears to be very good and natural.

17.  C Willie Cauley-Stein – 17 (Borderline starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 9, Skill impact talent grade: 5, Feel for the Game talent grade: 3)

Excellent physical tools for a C, with both elite athleticism and length. Needs to develop physically but has a respectable frame. Can finish around the basket and shows flashes of offensive skill in the post. Has an underwhelming feel for the game, often looking raw and unnatural on both ends.

18.  SF Alex Poythress – 17 (Borderline starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 9, Skill impact talent grade: 3, Feel for the Game talent grade: 5)

Poythress has superb physical tools for a small forward, with a great mix of size and explosiveness allowing him to get to the rim and finish. His skill game is fairly raw, being able to hit spot up shots at times but not create his own shot. Has an average feel for the game and awareness of the game/teammates. May end up stuck between the SF and PF positions.

19.  PF James Michael McAdoo – 17 (Borderline starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 5, Skill impact talent grade: 5, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7)

James Michael McAdoo has impressive athleticism and strength for a power forward, but is short for the position which could hurt his ability to attack the rim and finish. He has very good touch around the basket but lacks consistent shooting range. His biggest strength is his feel for the game as a smooth, natural offensive player. He has the tools to be a solid but probably underwhelming power forward.

20.  PF Mike Moser – 17 (Borderline starter talent) (Physical impact talent grade: 3, Skill impact talent grade: 7, Feel for the Game talent grade: 7)

Impressive skill level for a power forward, with the ability to hit a perimeter shot and handle the ball well. Good feel for the game offensively, can make offense look natural. Biggest issue is being a very undersized PF will likely push him to the perimeter instead of letting him attack the rim and physically impact the game. May be pushed to the SF position.

Just missed: SG Archie Goodwin, SF Shabazz Muhammad, SF Otto Porter, PG Michael Carter-Williams, PF Kelly Olynyk

Written by jr.

January 31, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Stats Tuesday: Some random thoughts on the Denver Nuggets in 2012-2013

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Denver Nuggets logo

Denver Nuggets logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Denver Nuggets have emerged as a popular sleeper pick among the statistical community. John Hollinger picked them to finish 2nd in the West (ahead of the Thunder and Lakers), Basketball Prospectus picked them to finish 1st in the West, and the Wins Produced/Wages of Wins picked them to finish 2nd. The Nuggets last year finished 6th in the West last year with a 38-28 season, equivalent of 47 Ws over 82 games. Where does the extra optimism come from?

The line of reasoning for such Nuggets break-out essentially breaks down to:

  1. The Nuggets were dominant offensively last year (3rd ORTG) despite injuries to Danillo Gallinari and Nene slightly derailing them early in the season, as well as one of their most productive offensive players in Kenneth Faried not getting minutes early.
  2. They were however disappointing defensively (19th DRTG). However, they added one of the very best defensive players in the league in Andre Iguodala, as well as another great athlete in Wilson Chandler.
  3. With a shored up defense and elite offense, this is a combination worthy one of the league’s best.

I have a few objections to this Nuggets’ improvement. One is I could see them taking a step back offensively. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

October 23, 2012 at 9:36 pm

33pt Thursday – Final predictions for 2012-2013 rookies

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This year was the first time I used the 33pt method to evaluate draft prospects. The real test of this metric and what would gain it respect is if it will predict well. Although I posted a Big Board in June, I have a few issues letting that list stand. One is that was made very shortly after I had come up with the 33pt idea and before I had hashed out my specific criteria for the scores – as a result of the changes to my criteria, a few players’ scores and rankings have changed. Secondly, in that iteration of my big board, I didn’t lay out the specific scores for players, merely the rankings. Thus before the preseason started I wanted to make a revised post of my official predictions for 2012-2013 rookies using this metric, to test it when the players eventually hit the floor. I listed all of the 1st round picks, in addition to any significantly relevant picks outside of the 1st round. I also included the 2011 draft picks that will be rookies this year.

Superstar scores

Anthony Davis

Physical: 11, Skill: 7, Feel for the Game: 10

Total: 28

Davis looks even better than I thought in June, because I realized how rare elite shotblocking is at the 4 position – with his offensive explosiveness as well, Davis may in fact be one of the highest scoring physical talents at PF the NBA has seen. He has a tremendous feel and a skill level that should be somewhere between good and great for a PF.

Jeremy Lamb

Physical: 6

Skill: 9

Feel for the Game: 11

Total: 26

Lamb looks a lot like a SG version of Kevin Durant to me. He has an otherworldly feel for the game, has a tremendous array of shots and skills off the dribble, and has an elite first step and great size to finish at the rim.

All-star scores Read the rest of this entry »

33pt Thursday: Why I see Gordon Hayward breaking out as an all-star this year

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I originally planned to post how I use the 33pt method to rank teams and my predictions for this season, but I will save that for next week and polish it up until then

Of the players I have tried to evaluate with the 33pt method, a player who’s score jumped out to me was Gordon Hayward.

To many NBA fans, Hayward is seen as a decent starting wing in the NBA. But it is presumed his upside is inconsequential. I have him ranked as an all-star talent. Here’s my 33pt breakdown

Physical tools: Hayward might be the most underrated athlete in the league. Many of us seem to have a block when it comes to associating the aesthetic look of a scrawny white guy who fathers everywhere would want to date their daughter as superior athletically, however he is legitimately explosive. I like this video to show some of his explosiveness: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

September 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Predictions, Predictions, Predictions everywhere: The 2011-2012 NBA Eastern Conference

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Miami Heat

It appears to be a 2 team race between the Heat and Bulls in the East (Image by Keith Allison via Flickr)

Who’s coming out on top in the Eastern Conference this year? My predictions:

15. Washington Wizards (14-52)- Frankly, any team who finishes with a worse record than Charlotte should be embarrassed. Nevertheless, the way that happens is with a team who takes dumb shots, turns it over like crazy and is ambivalent defensively. One of the key points separating the bad from the horrible will be which teams pack it in after poor starts. In this compressed schedule and with tired legs, many young and immature players may see a 10 point deficit as a reason to take the rest of the game off. Washington has a lot of those players.

John Wall in preseason has played unfortunate, still pushing the ball too fast and too out of control, rather than reading his teammates and controlling the pace of the game. There’s still time but I believe he is an overrated prospect due to having the athleticism but not the basketball IQ of a player like Derrick Rose. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

December 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm